How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Teachers
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I think this is an especially challenging topic for many of us because we are often pretty insecure when we first start teaching because it’s just so obvious to us how much we have to learn.
We tend to be really hard on ourselves and to feel pretty isolated, and sometimes a little lost, because we spend a lot of our time feeling like we just don’t know what we’re doing. At least, that’s how I felt.
So for me, at least, I think that because I was feeling really insecure about being a new teacher and having my own classroom for the first time, I was especially sensitive to anything that anyone said to me about ANY other teacher.
When I first started teaching, there was another new teacher at our school, and it seemed to me like that’s who everyone always seemed to talk about around me, and I couldn’t understand why.
“Oh she’s so incredible with those students, and she’s so beautiful, and she’s so this and so that.”
Now, whether or not people were actually trying to make me feel “less than” in talking about her, I started to feel this way, and I found myself in this internal battle against feeling good enough… it felt to me like they were comparing me and telling me how great she was all the time, and that made me feel bad.
It’s very possible that they were also seeing great qualities in me and telling her about me, too – but all I heard, of course, was about how great she was, so I started to doubt myself and wonder if maybe she was that much better than me or something.
It’s even more challenging for new teachers because we are compared to each other even if we don’t want to be, because we are continually evaluated by our administration, so they are comparing us against each other, too. And all of the competition for jobs and keeping our jobs just sets the stage for that kind of comparison and competition.
Why is comparing ourselves to other teachers unhealthy?
Think about who you usually compare yourself to – who have you compared yourself to in the past 24 hours? Someone’s name or face probably just popped up in your mind.
Now, think about what it is about that person that you’ve compared yourself to. It’s probably something that person is capable of doing that you wish you could do as well.
The problem becomes that we often look outside of ourselves, see something that they’re doing that we want to do, and then we feel bad about ourselves because we might not believe we can do that thing they’re doing, or we feel so far away from where they are that it now feels almost impossible to get to where they are and to do that thing they are doing so well, right in front of us.
It’s so easy to walk into someone else’s classroom and, after we’ve just put in 3 hours creating what we think is a super cute activity for our students, only to then see what someone else is doing that looks and seems so much better.
So, although comparison can be a great tool to help us get clear about what it is that we really want, too often, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Because here’s the problem with comparison: Unless you are the best in the world at something, when you compare yourself against someone else and constantly come up short, it makes you feel bad about yourself.
It really affects our self confidence in a negative way because all we’re seeing is that person’s result – not their effort that it took to get that result. Whenever you see someone excel at anything, it’s likely the result of a tremendous amount of effort. But when all you see are the results, it can make you feel less than because you haven’t been on the same journey as them.
But here’s where it gets really tricky. We might even be telling ourselves that we are comparing ourselves so that we can get better in a specific area, but it really isn’t that useful – even if you compare yourself and you come out in front in some area, it’s just one area – and the reality is that they probably have skills that they’re better at than you in other areas.
In my classroom, I always told my students that what is fair is not the same for each one of us. I always explained that all of them have gifts, but that their gifts are in different areas. That means that although writing may be really challenging for some students, and so they get more support and help to grow in that area, that they may be especially gifted in sports, and so we rely on them to be teachers to help other students in our class who find sports more challenging. What is fair does not look the same for everyone because everyone has gifts in different areas.
Also, when you start resenting someone for doing well, you’re spending your time feeling down and focusing on negative energy, which is the last thing you need or want. And, it increases the chances of you saying something negative about someone else – which can be dangerous when you just never know who is connected and how.
Okay, so we know that it really isn’t a great thing to compare ourselves – so how do we stop this? How do we change it?
Let’s talk about how to stop comparing yourself in 4 steps:
The first step is to realize when you’re doing it.
As you are probably all too aware, there are so many amazing teachers posting images online and on social media of the fantastic things they’re creating in their classrooms.
So, it’s a pretty safe bet that the comparison game might be happening to you a lot when you scroll through Instagram or Facebook, and that’s because the very point of social media is to see what other people are up to in their lives – but let’s face it, most people only post the very best of stuff, and, even when it’s bad, people post to paint their situations in the very best light possible.
I mean, when I do a FB Live, I have a special space set up that’s all cute and perfect, I do my hair and put on makeup, and I use special lighting so that you don’t have to see every wrinkle and every flaw I have on my face. That’s because I too want to give you the very best of me, but it certainly doesn’t mean that as I’m writing this blog or recording this podcast that I’m sitting here in full makeup looking magazine-worthy. No way! But that’s what we do, right? We put our best face forward when we’re presenting ourselves in public.
When I first started teaching more than 20 years ago, we didn’t even have social media, so the only other teachers we compared ourselves to were the people right down the hallway. Nobody saw our classrooms outside of our own students and their parents, and so there wasn’t this kind of pressure on us to design and create classrooms that were Pinterest-worthy.
I remember creating a display for my reading corner using an old box that I had spray-painted, and all of the other teachers thought it was the most amazing thing ever. But now that much more sophisticated ideas and designs for our classrooms are all around us and in our faces with the click of a button, I think it’s just really important to pay attention when we start feeling the pressure to live up to what other people are showing us online.
So, if you notice that you start comparing yourself when you are on social media, it might be helpful to become more purposeful about how (and how often) you’re using social media. I almost always regret it when I let my guard down and just start scrolling, because – inevitably, I come across something that makes me feel bad about my own life or circumstances – maybe it’s another teacher who’s been selling products online for 6 years already and I find myself comparing myself and my progress to them – which is completely crazy when I just started selling my products this year!
I started to feel bad about myself even though I hadn’t even given thought to it until I saw it. Once we see something, all we can think about is how we measure up – and it can be anything - a great relationship, a super cute classroom, or an incredible vacation.
The problem is that we are comparing our everyday life with everyone else’s highlight reel.
When it comes to comparing yourself to other teachers, that teacher may be right down the hall from you at your school – they don’t have to be on Instagram. But, I think it’s important to start paying attention to when we feel comparison creeping in – is it in conversations with that teacher who asks you questions that seem to be designed to make you feel bad about yourself? The first step is to get clear about when you are comparing yourself and pay closer attention to exactly when this happens.
Make a point of redirecting your thoughts.
The only relief from comparing yourself to others comes from making the decision to stop looking outside of yourself for validation and focus instead on becoming the very best version of yourself.
If you’re going to play the comparison game, compare yourself against who you were yesterday, last week, or last year.
If you saw something on Pinterest that inspires you and that you really want to create in your own classroom, ask yourself what you can do today to take the first step towards what you want.
When I catch myself comparing myself to another TpT seller, I have a choice to either compare myself against where she is, which doesn’t make any sense at all when you really think about it – or compare myself against where I was a year ago. What have I done this past year to begin to create what it is that I really want? That’s what matters, and that’s what’s going to move me forward and serve YOU best.
When you catch yourself comparing yourself to that teacher who has been posting for 8 years about the best ideas in her classroom, decide instead to redirect your thoughts towards who you were a few months ago as a teacher compared to who you are now. If you’re going to compare, compare yourself against who you were last week, last month, or last year. That's the only fair or true comparison to make!
Where you are has nothing to do with where you want to go. It’s just where you are right now.
So, decide what you want to become better at, and if you’re comparing yourself against someone who has or is doing what you want, either ask for their help or choose to learn how to get better from their example.
If you want to improve your teaching or your classroom in a specific area – maybe you’ve looked outside yourself and you’ve seen that another teacher is doing something that you are choosing to see as inspiring and amazing - ask yourself, okay, what is the next step for me to improve in this area?
What is the first step I can take?
Maybe it’s asking that teacher what resource they are using to get the results they are getting. Maybe it’s going onto Pinterest with the focused intention of finding a great tool or resource in that area and limiting your time and attention to that. Maybe it’s asking other teachers in the staff room if they know of any great resources or ideas for how to improve in a particular area.
There are thousands of teachers online sharing their incredible ideas. And I know that this can put tremendous pressure on new teachers especially to live up to what feels like impossible standards. But, I remember one time, I was having dinner with a guy who I met when I was traveling in Southeast Asia, and I commented on how pretty another girl was who was sitting right by us. And of course, in my comment, he could hear my feeling that I felt like maybe she was prettier than I was.
And he looked at me as if I were a little crazy and said, “But there is no end to this. There will always be someone with more and someone with less. There is no point on wasting thought or energy on this. There is no end to this.”
And I want to say the same thing to you now, although of course, it’s a practice, because it’s so much easier said than done:
“There is no end to this, this comparison game. There will always be someone who is doing what you’re doing better, and there will always be someone who is doing it not quite as well. There is no point on wasting thought or energy on this.”
It’s just where you are right now. The way to move forward from here is simply to take the next best step to growth. It’s more than enough, even though it may not feel like it right now.
Give yourself some grace and patience and focus on the journey.
We talk about this a lot on this podcast, and that’s intentional. It’s because it’s human nature to spend a lot of our time focused on how great it will be later – once we have all of this figured out, once our classrooms are running like clockwork, and once we are making more money and have more security.
But the reality is that the most important moment is the one we are in right now. This is what matters the most, because who you choose to be – an empowered learner or a helpless victim – will determine your happiness in every moment.
Ultimately, the only thing that will give us relief from comparison is to realize that the journey that we are on is our own. It has nothing to do with anyone else. This is your life. This is your wild ride, and you get to decide right now if you want to enjoy it and soak in every moment, or if you want to spend all your time thinking about how someone else’s ride is going.
When you spend your time comparing yourself to other teachers, you might really miss the good stuff.
Because becoming a great teacher is all about mastering all of the little skills you need to by developing your own way of doing things that work perfectly for you.
It’s about paying attention to what your own students need and finding ways to satisfy that. It’s about trusting your own abilities and talents to figure out the best and most inspiring path forward for you and for your students. And, how can you do that when your thoughts and mind and heart are on what someone else is doing instead of on the little ones who are right in front of you who need your attention?
The point is that although it’s great to draw inspiration from other teachers, the real joy in teaching comes from creating a classroom and a learning environment that is uniquely you. That sounds cliché, but it’s true.
Sometimes, you just need to close your door and teach, and trust that your best ideas and your movement forward in this profession will come to you by focusing on your practice, not someone else’s. It’s my hope that by sharing all of my own ideas and stories and resources on this podcast, that I am able to inspire you to take what you love and leave what you don’t and forge your own identity as the brilliant educator that deep down inside, we both know that you are.
That’s what matters. That’s the point of being a teacher. And that’s why it’s just boring to compare yourself to others.
The real excitement and magic and best ideas happen when you go inside and trust yourself for guidance. Trust me – I know. My best teaching started happening when I stopped trying to be like someone else and when I stopped trying to figure out how other people were doing things and when I asked myself how we were going to do things inside Mrs. Friesen’s room.
P.S. Are you looking for a little more inspiration and a happy little pick-me-up for your Monday mornings? Grab your FREE copy of my Monday Morning Inspiration Packet that includes a fantastic (Classroom-Approved) Start of the Day Playlist to get both you and your kiddos moving and feeling positive each morning, as well as some inspirational and energizing conversation and writing starters to use with your kiddos!
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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